NFF poses question of why Australian agriculture must be carbon neutral by 2050

Peak body throws support behind carbon targets - with caveats

OPINION
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Fiona Simson, president of the National Farmers' Federation and Liverpool Plains farmer, says the peak body is conditionally supporting moves for Australia's agricultural sector to be carbon neutral by 2050.

Fiona Simson, president of the National Farmers' Federation and Liverpool Plains farmer, says the peak body is conditionally supporting moves for Australia's agricultural sector to be carbon neutral by 2050.

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NFF is conditionally supporting an Australian economy-wide carbon neutral target by 2050.

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Getting the answers while setting targets is a tricky approach. But every business owner knows we don't always have all the answers - even when we know where we need to go.

In uncertain times, setting a target to aspire to is important. It gives a point of focus.

While collectively managing the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must also have an eye for the future and agriculture's role in accelerating the nation's recovery. A recovery process that will include a plan for how we tackle another wicked problem - climate change.

The National Farmers' Federation (NFF) and its members recently adopted a policy of conditional support for an Australian economy-wide net carbon zero target by 2050 (NCZ2050).

We have done so because now -more than ever - we need to be at the table.

Our policy has strict caveats that seek to incorporate learnings from the policy failures of the past, such as the Kyoto 'Australia clause' land use legislation.

The policy also looks forward to a time when agriculture is recognised as being the leader it is, in terms of achieving both productivity growth and emissions reductions.

And to a time when farmers are duly remunerated for the biodiversity benefits they deliver every day on behalf of all Australians. After all, farmers manage 51 per cent of the Australian landscape.

For some time, the NFF and its member organisations have been frustrated by the lack of tools for producers in evaluating and reporting on individual business emissions.

The NFF has been engaged in the work of the Climate Research Strategy for Primary Industries and has taken its concerns to both the Commonwealth Government and the rural research and development corporations, seeking a comprehensive industry-wide approach.

Individual farms can be both sequesters and emitters depending on their commodity and practice mix.

There lies the need for detailed understanding of the baselines for sectors - and associated management practices - and the need to consolidate this information to support whole-farm, multi-commodity planning.

It now seems like the work is finally underway to deliver these tools - and rightly so, given it is farmers who pay levies to these research bodies.

Cross-industry research that would enable a mixed commodity farmer to accurately report their emissions - whether in a supply chain context through emission intensity, or through a whole of farm net position - is currently well behind the expectations of farmers.

As Australian agriculture now backs an economy wide NCZ2050 target, it is incumbent on state and federal governments to take note of the caveats on our policy.

A number of states, industries and business organisations in other sectors have agreed to the NCZ2050 target, but failed to clearly ascribe commercially viable pathways to achieve this.

Such aspirational goals risk being meaningless without such clear mechanisms.

Agriculture, in contrast, is the only sector that can make a commitment that is genuine and real. We are able to base our support on very specific conditions.

The NFF has recognised the emerging scientific, political, commercial and market access pressures of Australian industries - not only agriculture - to meet the economy-wide NCZ2050.

While NFF members have made an aspirational alignment with this goal, ongoing innovation and policy support are needed to retain our support.

Some farm groups aim for more aggressive targets, such as the red meat sector's target of carbon neutrality by 2030, others are more reticent - and rightly so, given previous costs to farmers of policies that shifted costs onto land managers.

While we must learn from the mistakes of the past, we must also look forward to the developing realities.

Agriculture is already the only sector within the Australian economy that has consistently reduced its emissions intensity and net emissions in the past decade.

We currently provide a number of carbon offset benefits to the wider economy and community through the management of soils and vegetation.

The NFF's vision for agriculture to be a $100 billion industry by 2030 includes a goal for agriculture to be trending towards carbon neutrality by the same year.

Importantly, this is predicated on significant research to enable a reduction in emissions while growing productivity.

We would like all commodities to have plans in place to support that trajectory by 2025.

There is much work to be done, but we believe it can be achieved with a clear voice from farmers, representative organisations and industry research bodies - and bona fide collaboration from government.

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